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Your faculty and staff news since 1965
February 14, 2005
Volume 40, Number 7

Barelas neighborhood heart of student planning project

By Carolyn Gonzales

Barelas stretches through the heart of the city reflecting cultural heritage and identity.
Albuquerque’s heartbeat pulsates through Barelas. Whether flowing through the acequia, chugging along the rails, arching the bridge or traveling the arterials of Camino Real or Route 66, Barelas is rooted at the center.

Barelas, at the heart of the city’s history, culture, economy, politics and life, is also a community affected by poverty, drugs and outside influences from development and growth.

The advanced planning studio in Community and Regional Planning in UNM’s School of Architecture and Planning recently conducted a social, economic and planning analysis for Albuquerque’s Barelas neighborhood.

Fleming"In their second year, the graduate students gain experience with a real client, in this case the Albuquerque Civic Trust,” said Bill Fleming, associate professor and one of the studio’s instructors. The other was assistant professor Stephen Wheeler.

WheelerThe Trust was formed to promote downtown Albuquerque revitalization by providing resources to assure available, convenient and affordable housing as well as affordable commercial spaces, arts and public spaces while maintaining diversity and social responsibility.

Six teams from the planning studio identified five areas of concern that they presented to the community and the Civic Trust: community participation, affordable housing, economic development, physical design and environmental planning.

“Approximately two-thirds of Barelas residents are Hispanic. The percentage is increasing, fueled in part by immigration,” said Gulliver Scott, student. This demographic reflects the neighborhood’s cultural heritage and identity, but also notes a growing immigrant population, creating divisions between long-time residents and newcomers.

Although Barelas has existed as a location for human inhabitants for 12,000 years, it was the Europeans who founded the community. In recent history, the railroad, which arrived in 1880, has stoked the neighborhood’s economic development for almost 70 years.

“Through interviewing Barelas residents, we learned that there is little employment available in Barelas, a strong need for job training, low wages in available jobs, and a need for access to capital to start businesses,” said student Mariana Padilla.

Many feel disconnected from decision-making in their community. “People care deeply about their neighborhood and have ideas about how to maintain and strengthen the things they love about it while changing things they’d like to see improved,” said James Aranda, student.

The UNM students heard that different groups – the homeless, renters, Mexicanos, those recently released from prison – were being blamed for the neighborhood’s problems. These same groups, they heard, were identified as underrepresented in neighborhood organizations and decision-making. Many also noted a failure to address the root causes of drug and alcohol abuse.

“There has been an out-migration of Bareleños, an increase in absentee landlords, as well as too few homeowners and funds to fix up existing homes,” said student Fernando Bejar.

Gentrification is not a new issue for the area, but is one that can be addressed, the students reported. Indicators of gentrification include high volume of renter-occupied housing, increased home values and low incomes. Getting organized, rebuilding the sense of community and promoting a neighborhood coalition help thwart takeover.

“Rehabilitating existing homes, working with absentee landlords, revitalizing infill lots and adding amenities to the neighborhood would all bring pride and ownership back to Barelas,” Bejar said.

Another avenue to prevent gentrification is to rezone the area between 14th and 1st Streets along Coal, Iron and Stover and along 4th Street from Coal to Bridge. “This inclusionary zoning maintains the affordability of housing and prevents existing houses from being converted to higher priced ‘market rate housing,’” student Carolyn Washee-Freeland said.

An affordable housing project at 4th Street and Coal was proposed. “The total development cost is $4.6 million or a per unit cost of $195,000. It would require a 35 percent subsidy to make it affordable,” she said.

Residents also want to see the community reconnected to the bosque. All streets except Marquez dead end at the storm drain, they said. The UNM students recommended pedestrian-oriented parks complete with shade, benches and historic information available in kiosks.

“There are clear environmental benefits in favor of developing green space. They provide a natural filter for urban run-off as well as economic savings. They create pleasant surroundings, provide a natural habitat for regional plants and animals, promote community interaction and increase property values,” student Al Pacile said.

The students noted “brown fields,” or vacant sites that could be restored to provide green space and remove purposeless pavement. “Landscaping conserves water and energy provided we use native trees and vegetation. It reduces the heat island effect. It’s eight degrees cooler in the shade than in the sun in summer,” student Emily Geery said.

The students made formal presentations to members of the Albuquerque Civic Trust and the Barelas community recently. They also presented a detailed report of their research and findings that is available in Spanish and English.

Joseph Montoya, director, Albuquerque Civic Trust, said, “We have a great relationship with the School of Architecture and Planning and enjoyed working with the students. They were obviously willing, capable and desirous to do good work for the community. The students’ work was well received appreciated and valued by the community.”

Students’ work provides the impetus for them to implement many of the recommendations. “We have 20 Barelas organizations now coming together to create a communication structure and establish a unified force to set a vision and collectively move forward,” Montoya said.

“The Civic Trust proposed to use the study to acquire funds to develop affordable green housing in Barelas,” Fleming said.
He added, “The students did very professional work, useful to Barelas residents and the Civic Trust. Steve [Wheeler] and I are very pleased and proud of their accomplishments.”